Cliché Answers to the 7 Most Common Interview Questions (And What You Should Say Instead)
The internet offers a massive amount of job interview advice, sample questions and potential responses. When you are trying to land a job, it’s easy to devour this advice in bulk, but that might actually be more detrimental to your career than you realize.
What’s resulted is hiring managers hearing the same cliché responses over and over again. When your objective is to learn about applicants to determine if they will be a good fit for the position, and they all say their biggest flaw is “perfectionism,” it’s frustrating, to say the least.
As a job seeker, you want to do your homework and come to the interview prepared to answer the most common interview questions. But how can you avoid sounding like an echo of every other candidate?
“The preferred response to any question is one that is honest and upfront,” says staffing and onboarding coach Jen Teague. Ideally, your circumstances, interests and aspirations will factor into every answer, leaving your interviewer with a clear and accurate impression of who you are.
To get you started in the right direction—and to help you steer clear of some responses that could leave a bad impression—we asked hiring managers to share the most cliché answers they encounter when interviewing job candidates. Hear what the folks in the hiring seats are sick of hearing, and their advice on how to craft a more impressive response.
1. Why would you excel at this job?
What NOT to say: “I like working with people.”
“This is one of the most robotic answers a candidate could provide,” according to Beth Tucker, CEO of KNF&T Staffing Resources. She says though it might seem like a friendly answer, it doesn’t actually reveal anything about you as a person or employee.
“Most people like to work with other people,” Tucker explains. “Instead of saying this, try thinking of the core message you’re trying to communicate.” Are you an especially strong communicator? Do you work harder when you’re collaborating with coworkers on a project? Do you enjoy delegating responsibility?
“You’re much better off giving an example that demonstrates your abilities,” Tucker says.
A better approach: Talk about a team project where you interacted with a diverse group of people—or difficult people. This will have a much bigger impact and make a better impression on the interviewer.
2. What do you know about our company?
What NOT to say: “Not much. I was hoping you could tell me.”
“This answer highlights your lack of initiative and preparation,” says Mike Smith, Founder of SalesCoaching1. He urges to always do your research on any company you are interviewing with and come prepared to dazzle.
A better approach: Smith suggests a statement that displays what you understand about the company, and what you might still want clarification on. An example is, “I found your annual report and noticed your company has grown your market share and is opening other branches. What is the next location planned?”
3. Why do you want to be in this business?
What NOT to say: “It looks like a cool company to work for.”
This vague enthusiasm also reveals a lack of research. Smith says experienced interviewers hear this same answer time and time again. Why would you prefer to work for this company, rather than some of their competitors? Even if you do plan to interview at both companies, you are better off being specific.
A better approach: I have done a lot of research in this marketplace. Your company and your competitors (name them) are in the fastest growing sector. I want to be a part of that growth.
4. Why did you apply for this position?
What NOT to say: “I want to get my career started.”
“The worst cliché answer I receive is something along the lines of, ‘I’m not picky about my position, I just want a chance to work,’” says Shell Harris, President of Big Oak Studios Inc. He says this kind of answer typically comes from the mouths of college graduates having difficulty landing their first job.
“When I hear this response, I am thinking this person is desperate to work and will say anything to get any job, even a job they may not like,” Harris says. He adds that this is often an indicator that the candidate will continue job searching even if he or she does land the position. He believes applicants who have specific expectations about what kind of work they will do in the company come off much better.
“It tells me they understand what we do, how they can help and, most importantly, that they want to be a part of the company,” Harris says. “Sure, I believe they want to work, but they aren’t being honest with me or themselves if they say they’ll take any job.”
A better approach: Talk about what the role you’re applying for does for you. Could it help you develop a skill you’re hoping to sharpen? Does it align with your strengths or expertise? What excites you about the position?
5. What is your biggest weakness as an employee?
What NOT to say: “I’m a perfectionist.”
This is one of the biggest clichés out there in interviewing world. “The age-old advice about spinning any negative about yourself into a positive only works when it’s specific,” says Gail Abelman, recruiter at Staffing Perfection.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard people tell me, ‘I’m a perfectionist,’ or ‘I’m too honest,’” she says. “These are about as cliché and phony as it gets.”
“You can tell immediately when people are not being genuine,” says Rebecca Baggett, Director of Human Resources at Bigger Pockets. She says responses like ‘I’m a perfectionist’ or ‘I’m too loyal’ really communicate either a lack of honesty or a lack of self-awareness. “I always appreciate when a candidate says, ‘I messed up and this is how I corrected the situation,’” she says.
Ableman advises telling a story to answer this kind of question. It will sound more personal and realistic, and you will provide your interviewer with a better picture of who you are and what it will be like to hire you.
A better approach: Describe an issue you experienced at a previous job, the problem you had solving it and the steps you took to ultimately overcome it.
6. What are your long term goals?
What NOT to say: “I want to move up within the company.”
Advancement might seem like the only right answer to give to this question, but thinking of your goals in terms of a one line track to the top is actually rather limiting. Teague says personal goals as well as professional goals can play into your answer here, particularly if they could intersect (i.e., Wanting to learn another language).
Once again, get specific. Your interviewer wants to know what motivates you. Try to think beyond a larger paycheck and detail some goals that make you excited about what you do.
A better approach: Explain that you’re motivated to advance as a professional, but list some particular goals you’d like to achieve (both personal and professional).
7. Do you have any questions for me?
What NOT to say: “No, I think you covered them all.”
This answer if often on the tip of everyone’s jittery tongue at the close of an interview, but it reveals no preparation or willingness to research the industry, according to Smith. As this is often the question that will conclude the interview, your response has the potential to leave a particularly lasting impression.
Smith suggests thanking interviewers for what they did cover and offering at least one, in-depth question. You can riff off something they already mentioned in the interview, or bring up something you found in your research. “This shows a business maturity and a professional approach,” Smith adds.
A better approach: Ask about a recent announcement you encountered in your research or ask the interviewer about what brought them to the company.
Stand out from the crowd
Now you know some fresh ways to approach the most common interview questions without sounding like every other candidate applying. These tips should give you some ideas of where to start. Above all else, just remember to be genuine and answer questions honestly.
But you won’t even get an interview scheduled if you don’t impress with your resume first. Make sure yours is polished and professional by checking out these 26 Common Resume Mistakes That Will Lose You the Job.